Fall In The Uwharrie National Forest
Nestled in the heart of North Carolina, the ancient mountain range known as the Uwharries is bursting with color. Hues of red, yellow and orange decorate the hardwood forest, more than 50,000 acres of which are preserved as the Uwharrie National Forest.
The favorite fall drive of locals rambles along Flint Hill Road in northern Montgomery County, which happens to be a North Carolina Scenic Byway called the Flint Hill Ramble. A stop at the Jumpin’ Off Rock overlook is always memorable, but especially so in late October. Looking upstream along Barnes Creek, one can’t help but be mesmerized by the brilliant reflections of color in the rippling waters.
The creek winds back and forth under the byway as it circles the hills. A challenge awaits between two of those bridges. It’s the northern trailhead of the Uwharrie Trail, a 21-mile trek that takes hikers through one of the most beautiful hardwood forests in the Piedmont.
The first mile is the toughest on the whole trail. A hiking stick is handy as the trail goes straight up Dark Mountain, named for its thick canopy of trees and its dark secrets. It was a favorite hideout for outlaws and those who had no desire to soldier in the Civil War.
The 900-foot climb takes hikers through one of the few areas where the ground cover is flora, such as galax, not often found in the middle of the state. The trail continues between massive boulders where an occasional opening offers views of mountains that once peaked at 20,000 feet or more and today stop just short of 1,000 feet.
At the west end of the byway, head north a mile and take a left along Low Water Bridge Road. The state maintained road is paved there, but soon turns to gravel. Look out for the Schweinitz Sunflower, the Uwharries’ only endangered species. The tall daisy-like flowers are fall bloomers. The single-lane Low Water Bridge is aptly named. One might be surprised to still have dry feet after a crossing.
Hopeful prospectors still pan for gold in the river. This is also popular access point for kayakers and canoeists, who love to run the Uwharrie, one of the last unspoiled rivers in the Piedmont. Paddlers can make their way downstream 16 miles to Lake Tillery and pull out across the lake at Morrow Mountain State Park. One would be wise to check with locals about the level of the water before starting out. This year’s drought has left the river high and dry in spots.
Travelers can find more scenic fall drives along Okeewemee Road, the back way between Troy to Star. Another hiking trail, this one along Denson’s Creek, connects the Roy Maness Nature Preserve to another part of the Uwharrie National Forest near where the creek joins the Little River.
Fall is a favorite time for local celebrations. Town Creek Heritage Festival, celebrating the Native American heritage of the region, held the last weekend in September features an authentic pow-wow with singing, dancing and drum. Town Creek Indian Mound, near Mt. Gilead in southern Montgomery County is a state historic site, where 5,000 years ago, it was a ceremonial and burial ground for the Pee Dee Indian tribe, who farmed the fertile flatlands along the rivers there.
The annual Uwharrie Mountain Festival takes place in October with activities all about celebrating the rich heritage of the ancient Uwharrie Mountains. Featuring outdoor recreational activities like the 4.5-mile Badin Lake Trail Run/Walk, orienteering, 1-mile Around the Point Kids Fun Run, nature hikes, paddling games and disc golf, the event has something for the whole family. The Central Park NC Century Bike Ride will meander along scenic backroads of the Uwharrie Mountains, over as far as the Pisgah Covered Bridge and down along the rolling Sandhills. For avid treasure hunters there’s a geocaching event, gold panning and Digging Uwharrie, an archaeological activity. And nature lovers can enjoy guided nature walks. A wide variety of arts, crafts, and foods will also be available.
added: December 29, 2008
updated: February 22, 2012